Page C1.2 . 11 April 2001                     
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    Living in the City


    Such beneficial diversity also poses challenges. For instance, as its population continues to grow, how does an already dense megacity competitively provide appropriate housing that can compete with the suburbs or the countryside?

    Some may argue that high land-and-construction costs require dense development that does not provide services or private, communal, protected open space and play yards for family living. However, this argument is faulty and, from a city's viewpoint, near-sighted. The lack of humane living space will force many from the city, possibly leaving the city destitute.

    A Building for the New Worker

    Buildings themselves need to be designed to accommodate the new workers and their families. The precedent for the form of the building presented here is the courtyard.

    Courtyard block development can be low rise or high rise. In The New Landscape: Urbanization in the Third World, Indian architect Charles Correa calculates that low-rise courtyard housing can achieve densities equal to that of high-rise, a range of 100-400 persons per acre (250-1000 persons per hectare). Consequently building heights are not a function of density, but design choice.

    The design concept presented here is selected as an example of a high-density, block-size, high-rise urban infill form suitable for construction in a city's center. This concept differs from the traditional mixed-use development in that it is designed as a 24-hour building for the inhabitants' convenience, not as a typical high-rise commercial mix created solely to maximize profit.

    I envision a courtyard block building with an economic mix of offices, apartments, and reasonably sized, small live-work lofts, coupled with facilities necessary for daily living.

    Some loft and apartment space would be reserved for active seniors and low-income occupants. The objective is to encourage a mix of potentially economically interdependent people, who could profit by living in close proximity.

    The low-income occupants may be able to provide services for the live-work and senior occupants, such as baby-sitting, house cleaning, pet care, health care, or cooking.

    Within the building, one floor is set aside for the "agora," the building's interior public space where the inhabitants can meet one another, hang out, team up, or exchange an office-water-cooler type of conversation.

    The space may contain a lounge with kitchen, food, and games. Automated-teller-machine banking, a multimedia library, postal services, an extended-hour child care center, and other services could be located in the agora space.

    This center would provide the spaces and equipment normally available as part of a traditional office space but too large or expensive for a live-work space, such as a conference room, copiers, and computer equipment. Stores, fast-food outlets, and other personal services would be found in other locations throughout the building.

    The proposed block-size building is large enough so that family uses can be incorporated into the building design, such as schools, cultural studies, medical clinics, and fitness centers. Public-use services, accessible from the street, can be connected internally within the building.

    Parking and car-rental services can be available on the underground floors located under the building accessible from both the perimeter streets and the building elevators. Whenever feasible, subway connections should be at lower levels of the building block.

    Many such successful examples exist in Manhattan, New York. The compact adjacencies of this concept eliminate the need for and cost of car ownership. Commercial deliveries, special provisions for recycling, and sanitation pick-up would be below street level.

    Part of the community's appeal would be for those attracted by the "wired" services available. Broadband infrastructure, such as telephone-cable-satellite connections of all types required by high-speed, interactive, real-time, and global communications and additional electrical service is essential to the live-work needs of both firms and technology-oriented knowledge workers.

    The Courtyard Block Tradition

    A mixed-use building-block community is an organic evolution of the traditional courtyard block, stemming from the increasing density in large cities, contemporary spatial shrinkage, new social reforms, technological innovation, and the emerging life style and culture of the new worker.

    Its objective is to create a closely knit, secure, convenient, urban-family-with-children community for living and working in the heart of the city one in which the quality of life competes with that of other cities and the suburbs.

    The courtyard serves the necessity for a protected family "private communal" space. As contemporary buildings have grown taller, the interior open courtyard space, perversely, has all but disappeared, its original function forgotten. It is now time to reexamine the courtyard as a means of reintroducing a familial quality of living to the center of the city.

    The advantage of the traditional courtyard block form is that it looks both inward and outward. Private uses are oriented toward the interior of the block and the "quad green" or interior court.

    The public domain, consisting of retail stores and restaurants, and with access to office and residential floors, is oriented to face the public street. Residential access can also be from the quad-like village green or court, like a Berlin courtyard block.

    Tall buildings must be sited to let daylight enter both open space and living spaces. Access to the interior (except to publicly used cafes and specialized shops) should be through electronically monitored gates, and well-lit lobby passages, and should be manned by 24-hour door guards.

    The core of the block is envisioned as a complementary private space with semi-public sidewalk transition spaces in between. Part of the interior green area would be landscaped with trees, shrubbery and flowers, pathways lined with benches, a playground, an animal walk, and hard and soft surfaces for skateboarding and other activities.

    Court-block configurations can be designed to serve other purposes, such as that of the block-size, twin hotel tower courtyard block adjacent to Hong Kong's convention center, where the courtyard is on the 7th floor. Various sites and different locations within a city suggest different configurations, heights, and sizes.

    A Promise of Revitalization

    An economically, sustainable healthy city is a people place, attracting those who come to the city to learn, exchange and experiment with ideas, and network with peers. It is a mecca for those seeking sustenance for the mind, body and spirit.

    The role of the city in the new economy is to accommodate diverse individuals and cultures while providing a quality of life that maintains a continuity with its own culture and roots.

    In the age of knowledge, intellectual capital is the economic foundation of the city, even though the activity may retain the old labels of business, trade, finance, and industry.

    Le Corbusier's city as a "machine for living" that serves industrial-era objectives is obsolete. The 21st-century humane, organic, sustainable city must designed in a manner that nurtures the mind, body, and spirit.

    Beverly Willis, FAIA is director of Architecture Research Institute, Inc., New York. This article is excerpted from a paper she presented at the Megacities 2000 conference in Hong Kong.



    ArchWeek Photo

    Diagram illustrating family services in a sustainable environment.
    Image: Beverly Willis, FAIA

    ArchWeek Photo

    A residential court block in Athens from the late 5th and 4th century B.C.
    Image: Richard Sennett

    ArchWeek Photo

    Ju Er Hu Tong 19, new courtyard housing in Beijing.
    Photo: Beverly Willis, FAIA

    ArchWeek Photo

    New courtyard housing at Belapur, India designed by Charles Correa.
    Photo: Charles Correa

    ArchWeek Photo

    Courtyard site plan on a typical Manhattan size block, New York.
    Image: Beverly Willis, FAIA

    ArchWeek Photo

    Aerial view of the courtyard at Manhattan Plaza Towers, New York.
    Photo: Beverly Willis, FAIA

    ArchWeek Photo

    Courtyard at a Hong Kong hotel towers building, adjacent to the city's convention center.
    Photo: Beverly Willis, FAIA

    ArchWeek Photo

    Aerial view of Ildefons Cerda's plan for courtyard blocks, in Barcelona, as originally constructed in 1859.
    Photo: Unknown


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